If You Truly Want To Help People, Do These Things

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Wanting to help others when they are going through a hard time is an almost universal instinct.

However, you may run into problems like knowing how to help others, when not to help, and understanding how to take care of yourself in the process.

We aim to fix that for you so you can be a better friend, family member, and community member.

*Note: practicing kindness and compassion must include helping yourself. By not helping yourself, you risk burning out or losing patience when you are trying to help others. Try not to become addicted to helping others or use it as a crutch to avoid tackling your own issues.

With this in mind, let’s ask some important questions:

What are some ways you can help others?

How do you take care of yourself when helping others?

And where is the balance between helping someone and enabling?

15 Practical Ways To Help Other People

Not sure how you can be of service to others? Here are some suggestions that may work for you, or might at least spark your imagination.

  1. Volunteer your time at a local charity or nonprofit organization to help others in your community.
  2. Donate blood to a blood bank or participate in a bone marrow registry.
  3. Help an elderly neighbor with household chores or grocery shopping.
  4. Donate unused or gently used items to a homeless shelter or thrift store to help people in poverty.
  5. Teach someone a new skill or offer tutoring services to a student.
  6. Cook and deliver a meal to someone who is sick or going through a difficult time.
  7. Volunteer at a local school or community center to help with after-school programs.
  8. Offer to drive an elderly or disabled person to appointments or errands to help people with disabilities.
  9. Write letters or send care packages to deployed military personnel or those in nursing homes.
  10. Help organize a fundraising event for a cause you care about to help people in poverty.
  11. Plant trees or participate in environmental conservation efforts in your community.
  12. Visit a local hospital or nursing home to spend time with patients or residents.
  13. Volunteer as a tutor or reading buddy at a local library.
  14. Offer to mentor someone in your field of expertise or provide career guidance.
  15. Donate money or resources to a cause or organization that aligns with your values.

Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Helping Others Through Organizations

Generous giving to organizations that have the means to help others going through difficult times is an effective way to help other people without doing it yourself.

Before you give to charity, consider the following points to guide you.

Think about what you have to give.

Different people have different ways to help others who are struggling.

You may find that you excel at helping people through a crisis. Maybe you find that you can lift others up and inspire them when they need it most.

Still, some people aren’t that hands-on with their work. There are some who would prefer to support others who are already doing the difficult work that is needed to encourage others through a challenging period.

So, ask yourself: what makes sense for you to lift someone up in their time of need?

Is it your time? Money? Advocacy efforts to make others aware of the issue?

There are a lot of ways that you can be supportive of others in need. You don’t need to be hands-on to be caring and compassionate. After all, generous giving is vital for charitable organizations to do their work.

Think about who you want to give to.

Who is it that you want to give to?

That can be interpreted in a few different ways. It’s not so much suggesting that you should only give to a certain group of people for a common good. Instead, it’s more about where your philanthropy should go.

Your local community is a wonderful choice. It’s often said that your local community is where you can make the greatest difference.

Maybe you have a great passion for helping animals, making the humane society a good choice. Retirement homes and senior citizens often need help with groceries and company to ease loneliness. Mentorship programs exist to help get kids on the right path toward success because not everyone has positive role models they can look up to. 

There are certainly charities and non-profits operating in your area that would benefit from your funds.

You can check with your local job and family services, churches, and even schools to help find these programs.

Independent community centers that provide services to people going through a difficult time should also accept donations of time or money, or they can connect you with another organization that does.

National organizations will have greater reach but they often focus on broader goals.

For example, a national organization is a great platform for collecting resources for things like research which always needs some form of funding. Others work internationally, providing charity services to people in need that would not otherwise receive them at all.

If you’re concerned about how your money might be spent or where it goes, Charity Navigator is an excellent resource to find more information about an organization.

There is one bit of misinformation surrounding some charities that needs to be corrected. Many people believe that personnel costs are the salaries paid to the upper management of a charity. In many cases, this is not true. Instead, this is often salaries being paid to social workers, psychologists, and other support personnel that allows the charity to run. It’s not necessarily going to clothes, groceries, or other tangible goods, but it is still benefiting people in need. 

You may look at a charity and see that 90% of the funding goes to personnel and think you don’t want to give to that charity because it doesn’t appear to be going to people in need—but it often is. It’s paying the salaries and buying supplies needed for those professionals to provide the services that they do.

Your generosity and donation will help other people more than you may realize.

Know why you want to give.

Knowing why you want to give may help inform you of the charity you want to support or the community service you want to perform to improve the intrinsic rewards you feel from contributing.

Try to identify your motivation for helping others.

Do you have any particular passions that are more appealing than others? Is there a particular form of philanthropy that you find most appealing to comfort struggling people going through difficult times?

The why often informs the what. For example:

“I feel passionate about uplifting the poor because there was a time in my life when I had nothing.”

“I want to help people in crisis because other people helped me while I was struggling.”

No matter what your “why,” there is likely to be an organization you can help fund or a service you can provide that matches.

The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others. – Albert Schweitzer

The Guiding Principles Of Helping Others

There are some guiding principles that you will want to follow when being of help to those who need it. Doing so will mean your efforts to lift someone up will be more effective, and you will have a greater sense of self-gratification in the process.

Many people think that selfless action requires that your actions be completely and totally without any consideration for yourself, but that simply isn’t true. You’re allowed to feel good—even proud—about your philanthropy and prosocial behaviors.

You don’t need to have all the answers.

A person who is going through a difficult time may feel like their problems are insurmountable. Those feelings can be intense and overwhelming even in a situation that is relatively simple.

This perspective is challenging because, even though you want to help, you may find that you lack the context of their point of view.

Complications like mental illness make helping others even harder. You may want to help someone with depression or anxiety, but they ultimately need to help themselves through treatment and lifestyle changes to attempt to make a difference.

Mental illness creates unreasonable, irrational emotions that you may not be able to relate to.

Life often hands us problems that do not have a clear and distinct solution. If you want to help, you must remember that you don’t need to have all the answers.

Kindness is sometimes as simple as just being there with someone while they are going through their hard time.

There are many situations where the person already knows the answer to their problem but they just don’t realize that yet. Sometimes, they just need a guide to realize that they do have the answers that they need already.

Still, one cannot underestimate the value of speaking with a certified mental health professional. Therapists are trained in how to help people with depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders. They help find solutions that work for their patients and assist them with putting the recommended plans into action.

Sometimes, the best way to help others is by encouraging them to seek the professional help they need.

Avoid generic platitudes or risk making the situation worse.

In the face of hardship, words can ring hollow.

That may sound ironic coming from a written article, but the idea is relevant when you’re trying to help.

Generic platitudes do more to make the speaker feel better than the person hearing them. An empathetic person should avoid statements like…

“Don’t worry! Things will be okay!” They’re not always okay.

“We will find a solution together. There must be one out there.” There isn’t always a solution.

“It’s as simple as…” It rarely is.

Avoid generic platitudes because they can make the situation much worse. The person hearing them may not express that they feel worse either.

By over-simplifying or minimizing the other person’s trials and tribulations, you are demonstrating a lack of empathy, understanding, and acceptance of the problem.

An action plan often helps more than emotional support.

An “action plan” is as much as it sounds. It’s a phrase used in mental health to help get people out of a rut and move forward to do something other than focusing on their problems.

You may find that friends regularly vent to you because you are serving as their unofficial therapist. But you can have a bigger impact by helping them make a plan. 

Remember, the best way to help others is to empower them to help themselves. They need to be the ones to take responsibility for their actions and choices. You don’t need to fix people’s problems for them.

However, you can certainly serve as a sounding board to bounce ideas off of. You can help them come up with different ideas on how to help themselves. A good phrase to incorporate is “what have you already tried?”

There’s a good chance that the person you’re helping has already tried some things. They may get frustrated that you’re suggesting things that they have already considered or attempted.

Remember, helping others isn’t sunshine and roses. Sometimes you’ll need to extend grace to someone experiencing anger or frustration. That’s just something you need to learn to handle when you want to help people.

The best approach is to help them establish a step-by-step plan on what they can do to try to solve their problem.

Establish clear and solid boundaries.

Your boundaries are important for helping others. Helpers are often taxed emotionally because they find themselves wading in that suffering.

Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution to totally shedding off that pain and suffering.

That’s why many therapists and social workers have their own therapists so they can vent off that suffering.

When you’re helping someone, boundaries will reduce the emotional load that might otherwise get placed upon you.

You need to know what you’re willing to help with and what is beyond your capability. You must also be able to say “no” even if you’re saying, “I want to help others.”

Takers will often take until you say that they can’t take anymore from you. That’s not necessarily because they’re bad people. It’s more that people in bad situations are more focused on their problems than on ensuring emotional balance for you.

In fact, you won’t be helping much if you’re making the other person take care of your emotions. Think about what you are willing to help with and what you’re not. Then stick to it.

Most people will accept when you say that you can’t help. It’s a massive red flag if the person’s response is anger or that you have to help them.

Don’t use the word “understand” if you try to relate.

The word “understand” is powerful. That word can build bridges when used correctly by someone who can demonstrate that they’ve experienced a similar problem.

However, “understand” can also cause dramatic harm when used by someone who can’t demonstrate that they’ve been there.

If you use “understand” incorrectly, you are communicating several pieces of information. You’re telling the person that you don’t actually understand the problem, that you’re not listening, and that you’re not going to be of meaningful help, because how could you be? You’ve never been in that situation, so how would you know what you’re talking about?

Understand is a word best used sparingly. Do not use it unless the experience you want to share closely mirrors theirs.

Even then, don’t make the situation about you and your experience. It’s all too easy to shift the conversation to be about you if you’re not careful. 

Instead, you can say something like, “I’ve been through a similar situation and this is what I did to address it… It may work for you, it may not, but it’s some place to start.”

Learn to “hold space” if you want to help others.

Holding space for someone is an important skill to develop if you want to be a helper. But what does it mean?

Well, holding space is being present with a person without judgment. It’s not getting wrapped up in your own opinions and forcing them on the other person.

Remember, the best help you can provide is to empower another person to help themselves. Not only does it make their victories their own, but they also can’t turn around and blame you when things don’t improve or they get worse.

How do you hold space? The primary principles include:

Avoid having or expressing a deep opinion on the matter. The person you are trying to help may be expressing their pain and frustration with a situation, but you don’t necessarily know the truth. They may not even know the whole truth of the matter.

Therefore, it’s better to not express an opinion than to express a wrong opinion that the person then makes their decision from. They may just turn around and blame you for the problem. 

Maintain control of your emotions. You may find that your emotions run high when you’re trying to help someone who is struggling.

Your emotions need to be kept in check, otherwise the person you’re trying to help may forego their own problem in favor of trying to comfort you. That is a challenge for empathetic people who want to be helpful and compassionate.

That’s the opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish. Meditation and mindfulness are quite helpful in quieting your emotions, so you can practice compassion.

Don’t take their problem personally. Remember that their problem is not your problem. You can try to help, but you can’t do the work for them. The best you can do is encourage them to take the necessary steps to solve their problem. 

Personal investment in the problem is a sure way to get frustrated with the person’s decisions instead of simply being there for them.

Often the hardest thing about holding space is that it can feel like you’re doing nothing. – Heather Plett

Careers Where You Can Help People

Those of you reading this who experience an intense desire to help others might be what’s known as a “lightworker” and choosing a career where you can do good every day might be the right option for you.

You have plenty of options, including:

1. Social worker.

You’ll find social workers all over the place. Some serve in mental health. Others work in hospitals to help people out. You’ll find them in senior care homes to advocate and help them. There are plenty more job opportunities in charities and non-profits.

2. Medical professional.

Every medical professional is centered around helping other people be healthier. Doctors, nurses, techs, and aides all provide valuable services to patients.

3. Teacher.

Teaching gives you an opportunity to help another person grow. It’s not limited to just classrooms in schools. Other people need to be taught in other venues.

You may consider teaching adults how to read or perform a specific skill you have. Mentorship and coaching are valuable careers where you can make use of career knowledge that you’ve acquired.

4. First responder.

These are your paramedics, police, and firefighters who all respond to emergencies when they happen. Often, these men and women are dealing with people who are currently having the worst day of their life. There is no greater place to make a hands-on difference.

5. Wellness professional.

This industry encompasses people like massage therapists, personal trainers, rehab trainers, and dietitians who help people create healthier lives but aren’t typical medical professionals. These people regularly help others improve their lives.

The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away. – Pablo Picasso

Resources And Organizations That Help Others

There are many national and international organizations that make a difference and help people all over the world. However, you can often make a big personal difference by looking into organizations in your local area that provide services to your community.

To find them, you can check phone directories, call Job and Family Services to ask them for phone numbers, ask your doctor or mental health professionals, or even just Google “charities near me.”

Here is a list of some national and international organizations that are always looking for people who can help either with their time or donations to keep running.

If you are in a position where it’s a better choice to donate than trying to volunteer, do remember that your donations are necessary for organizations like these to do their work.

Charities can’t work on hopes and dreams. They need funding and it’s a great way to help others if you can’t be hands-on.

American Red Cross serves people who are affected by disasters, facilitates blood donations, offers life-saving skill training, and a variety of other services that helps others.

Feeding America is a hunger relief organization that runs a series of food banks, facilitates food research, and provides disaster relief to try to help the 34 million Americans who are food insecure.

Habitat for Humanity is an organization that focuses on building housing for people in need, repairing and maintaining homes for the elderly and disabled, and disaster response.

United Way focuses on inspiring people to get involved in bettering their communities so everyone can thrive.

Oxfam International works to eliminate poverty to create an equal future for all.

Unicef is active in over 190 countries and territories to protect the rights of every child.

American Civil Liberties Union is a legal organization that fights the erosion of civil liberties of disadvantaged groups in the courtroom and political arena.

Doctors Without Borders provides independent, impartial medical humanitarian assistance to the people who need it most.

Children’s Defense Fund is a nationwide child advocacy organization striving to uplift all children, particularly the poor and disadvantaged.

American Heart Association focuses on heart and cardiovascular health to help people make healthier choices and reduce the number of people who experience strokes and heart attacks.

Science Says Helping Others Is Good For You

Happiness and well-being are widely studied subjects and the consensus is clear: helping your community leads to increased longevity, happiness, and satisfaction.1

In fact, one study demonstrated that the act of helping and giving advice to others actually provided the advice-giver more motivation to improve than it did the person receiving the advice.2

Humans are social, so it makes sense that assisting other people with prosocial behavior provides tangible benefits. People who volunteer experience increased happiness and personal satisfaction than those who do not.3

Practicing kindness also stimulates endorphin production and may go as far as to help alleviate depression and anxiety in some people.4-5

Maybe it’s time to start looking at ways you can give back if you’re looking for happiness, joy, and satisfaction with life.

Prosocial actions like community service, action toward the common good, and philanthropy make a significant difference to you, your neighbors, and people struggling through difficult times.

1. Post, S. G. (2014). It’s good to be good: 2014 biennial scientific report on health, happiness, longevity, and helping others. International Journal of Person Centered Medicine, 2014(2), 1-53.

2. Eskreis-Winkler, L., Fishbach, A., & Duckworth, A. L. (2018). Dear Abby: Should I give advice or receive it?. Psychological Science, 29(11), 1797-1806.

3. Meier, S., & Stutzer, A. (2008). Is volunteering rewarding in itself?. Economica, 75(297), 39-59

4. Alden, L. E., & Trew, J. L. (2013). If it makes you happy: engaging in kind acts increases positive affect in socially anxious individuals. Emotion, 13(1), 64.

5. Doré, B. P., Morris, R. R., Burr, D. A., Picard, R. W., & Ochsner, K. N. (2017). Helping others regulate emotion predicts increased regulation of one’s own emotions and decreased symptoms of depression. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43(5), 729-739.

About The Author

Jack Nollan is a person who has lived with Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar-depression for almost 30 years now. Jack is a mental health writer of 10 years who pairs lived experience with evidence-based information to provide perspective from the side of the mental health consumer. With hands-on experience as the facilitator of a mental health support group, Jack has a firm grasp of the wide range of struggles people face when their mind is not in the healthiest of places. Jack is an activist who is passionate about helping disadvantaged people find a better path.